Photo of Professor Bradley L. Pentelute.

Pentelute named the recipient of the 2018 Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry

Categories: Awards, Faculty

This award is given in recognition of outstanding research in biological chemistry of unusual merit and independence of thought and originality.

Associate Professor Bradley L. Pentelute has been named the recipient of the 2018 Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry. Established in 1934, and administered by the Division of Biological Chemistry of the American Chemical Society, this award is given in recognition of outstanding research in biological chemistry of unusual merit and independence of thought and originality. Consisting of a bronze medal and honorarium, the purpose of the Eli Lilly Award is to stimulate fundamental research in biological chemistry by scientists not over thirty-eight years of age. Pentelute will receive his prize at the upcoming 256th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, which will be held in Boston from August 19 – August 23, 2018.

Throughout evolution, Nature has developed molecular machines to rapidly manufacture, tailor, and deliver large functional biopolymers such as proteins into specific cells. Inspired by these mechanisms of nature, the Pentelute Lab has aimed to invent new chemistry for the efficient and selective modification of proteins, to ‘hijack’ these biological machines for efficient drug delivery into cells and to create new machines to rapidly and efficiently manufacture peptides and proteins. he invention of new chemistry is sought to modify Nature’s proteins to enhance their therapeutic properties for human medicine. This goal has posed immense challenges because proteins contain 20 amino acids that present different reactive functional groups and have a 3D shape that is moderately stable. In light of these obstacles, the newly developed chemistry needs to be protein compatible, site-selective, quantitative, and carried out in water at reasonable temperatures to maintain protein integrity and function. The Pentelute Lab has met these challenges and has developed a series of highly efficient and selective chemistries that can modify the amino acid cysteine and lysine within peptides and proteins. These newly developed chemistries can be catalyzed by enzymes or even promoted by a motif discovered by Pentelute’s group, which is coined a ‘pi-clamp’. This extensive protein modification toolkit has enabled the production of some powerful molecules including peptide macrocycles that cross cell membranes to disrupt cancer or antibody drug conjugates to kill breast cancer cells.

The Pentelute group is also focused on the delivery of large biomolecules into the cell cytosol. The group has developed a chemical approach for the systematic investigation of a nontoxic form of anthrax toxin, which transports enzymes into cells via a protective antigen-protein pump. The Pentelute Lab has recently discovered that the protein pump can deliver a wide range of cargo molecules into cells including antibody mimics, mirror-image proteins, small molecules, and enzymes. Once in the cytosol, the cargo activates biologically and in certain cases perturbs protein-protein interactions that drive cancer. The Pentelute group made a noteworthy cell biology discovery with this biomolecular delivery platform: the act of simply installing a single D-amino acid on an otherwise large L-protein turns off a key mechanism for cytosolic protein degradation. This discovery will aid in the development of durable cell-based protein therapeutics.

The Pentelute group has also invented a fully automated fast-flow machine to accelerate the chemical manufacture of polypeptides. It has built the world’s fastest and most efficient machine that can produce thousands of amide-bonds orders of magnitude faster than commercially available instruments. The machine is inspired by Nature’s ribosome that can incorporate 9 amino acids into a polypeptide chain per second. While the Pentelute group’s fast-flow technology is not as fast as the ribosome, it can form one amide bond in 7 seconds. This technology not only facilitates rapid polypeptide generation but also has enabled the group to carry out an entire D-scan of proteins to investigate protein folding and functions. This technology may solve the manufacturing problem for personalized peptide cancer vaccines.

Photo by Lee Hopkins